Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – The Case of Literacy, Essential Skills and Languages

Do you know the differences between formal, non-formal and informal learning? Do you know how they apply to literacy and second language acquisition?

In April 2010, I released a full-fledged research report on the topic. The title of the report is “Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada”. It investigates the links between formal, non-formal and informal learning and the differences between them. In particular, the report aims to link these notions of learning to literacy and essential skills, as well as the learning of second languages in Canada.

Philosophical underpinnings of this research are:

* There is value in learning of all kinds.

* Learning is a lifelong endeavour.

* An interdisciplinary approach is valuable.

Notions of formal, non-formal and informal learning are outlined as:

Formal learning This type of learning is intentional, organized and structured. Formal learning is usually arranged by institutions. Often this type of learning is guided by a curriculum or a formal program.

Non-formal learning This type of learning may or may not be intentional or arranged by an institution, but is usually organized in some way, even if it is loosely organized. There are no formal credits granted in non-formal learning situations.

Informal learning This type of learning is never organized. Rather than being guided by a rigid curriculum, it is often experiential and spontaneous.

In the report, examples are given for literacy and essential skills, as well as second and other languages for each of the categories above.

Finally, the examples of systems developed value different types of learning using asset-based approaches are given. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the branch of the federal government that deal with employment skills and learning, has defined literacy as:

* Reading text

* Document use

* Numeracy

* Writing

* Oral communication

* Working with others

* Continuous learning

* Thinking skills

* Computer use

This government branch has developed a set of tools for learners, literacy practitioners and employers ( ). Learners can access self-assessment tools that will help them understand their competence levels. Practitioners can access tools that will help them conduct literacy assessments. Employers can access a “Workplace Survey”, which will help them examine the literacy and essential skills of their organization.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is considered for second and other languages. Interest in this framework and its growing applications in Canada are also considered.

A full copy of the report is available on the author’s blog.


Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. (n.d.). Essential Skills. website Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (n.d.). Recognition of Non-formal and Informal Learning – Website Werquin, P. (2007). Terms, Concepts and Models for Analyzing the Value of Recognition Programmes: RNFIL- Third Meeting of National Representatives and International Organisations.

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Permission is granted to use this article, providing that the author, Sarah Elaine Eaton, is credited.

Are you citing this article in your own research? Here is APA Citation information for this article:

Eaton, S.E. (2010). “Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The Case of Literacy, Essential Skills and Languages”. Retrieved from: (Insert the URL of this website here.)

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